Written by: Gianna Adonteng
Rated Y-7, Avatar: The Last Airbender initially was a show crafted for the young audience of Nickelodeon, although so many people of all different ages are finding that they can relate to the show and all each character has to offer. Typically, the shows displayed on the children’s network are light, entertaining, and educational. In an attempt to remain a show that is funny and can capture a young audience easily, they tend to drift away from important storylines to maintain steady engagement.
Situations such as these are shown on many children’s series, an example being on Rugrats when they dealt with the loss of a parent, or on That’s So Raven when Raven exposes a racist recruiter who refuses to hire her because she’s Black. But unfortunately, there aren’t many shows like these for younger audiences, since they usually allow storylines to fall flat with underdeveloped characters and baseless storylines.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is a show that is unlike any other on Nickelodeon. Despite being a show for children, it tackles hard hitting topics such as xenophobia, mental health, imperialism, and teaches important lessons, all while creating characters who experience growth and share with their audience important lessons.
Starting off with the characters, Toph is a strong and powerful young woman who makes it a point to be in charge of her life, even if she was born completely blind. Toph was born into a wealthy family who treated her differently because of her disability and kept her existence as secret, as well as stopped her from learning earthbending. But even with her parent’s attempts, she becomes self-taught and works especially hard to become an earthbending master, and even competed in pro-wrestling matches. Toph is an example of how you should never let anything or anyone stop you from achieving and going after your dreams and goals.
Katara is another powerful and kindhearted woman who began her journey by finding a boy trapped in ice, and not long after she goes on a journey that helped her become a powerful and incredible waterbender. From a young untrained waterbender to a smart and creative waterbender who shapes her own identity, Katara isn’t defined by her love interests or anyone and actively works towards everything she earns.
Zuko, a villain turned hero, definitely has one of the greatest character arcs in the television show. He’s burned by his mother, banished from his home, and forced to pursue the Avatar to regain honor and return home with dignity. At the start of the show, he might be a good person, but it’s hidden by hate and sadness and anger. Eventually, Zuko realizes that he wants to help the Avatar. All because of Toph’s empathy and kindness, the group is able to look past Zuko’s past and see him for who he’s becoming, and so they decide to give him a second chance.
Along with the iconic characters who constantly bring a laugh to everyone in the audience, the creators of the Nickelodeon show also managed to address important topics, allowing it to be a show that’s breaking barriers far beyond it’s time.
The series addresses mental health through Azula, the sister of Zuko and the Fire Nation Princess. Azula, like her father, lacks important human traits such as empathy, and has no care for other people. While too many children were watching the show at the time, Azula may have been categorized as a “villain” or “evil”, she was actually just showing signs of having mental health issues.
For as long as we can see and probably longer, Azula is a perfectionist who’s obsessed with seeking her father’s approval of everything she does, even to the extreme measures of disassociating herself from everything. As a result, Azula has grown accustomed to manipulating and hurting others just to gain her fathers approval.
Although Azula presents herself as a powerful woman, she unfortunately faces her downfall as she prepares for her coronation as the Fire Lord. During what’s supposed to be the most important moments of her life, her father left her to rule by herself to be the Phoenix King, and her friends left her to help the Avatar. We’re able to see Azula breaking down when she sees visions of her mother speaking to her, and she just doesn’t seem as powerful in these moments. For so long she worked for her father’s attention and approval, and he was the person to push her away when she felt that he loved her. Combining her father leaving her with visions of her mother saying that she loved her, Azula was pushed to her breaking point. She’s a perfectionist, and having not everything be perfect and how she wanted, she began to lose touch with reality.
Viewers are also able to see signs of schizophrenia as Azula gets closer to coronation, and especially when she has the final fight with Zuko. She loses, and the failure and her recent losses cause her to burst into tears.
The show also mentions two important topics in the real world: xenophobia and imperialism.
Xenophobia is presented in the series when the Fire Nation demonstrates wrongful brutality against the other nations, especially when they destroy everyone else just to gain complete totalitarian control. This is also seen in today’s world, when immigrants are disrespected and treated horribly just because of the country they were born in.
The Fire Nation is a representation of an imperialist regime. The Fire Nation uses firebending, war, and power to gain financially and become more powerful as well as stop other people who may want to stunt their growth. Not only do they work hard to gain power, they also misuse their power to keep the less fortunate under their control. Aang and Katara are both examples of how these genocides and destructions have ruined and weakened their people.
If you haven’t seen Avatar: The Last Airbender already, it’s highly suggested because although it may be on a platform for a younger audience, it’s a show with a story for all ages that everyone should see at least once in their lives.